The Leonardo da Vinci Guide To Being A Renaissance Man

By Alex Shalman

November 7, 2008   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Leonardo da Vinci excelled in every facet of the arts and sciences and was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant men in history. The question, then, is whether Leonardo’s natural brilliance allowed him to easily absorb all this knowledge, or whether his curiosity and engrossment in this vast array of knowledge lead him to become brilliant.

When looking at a person such as Leonardo da Vinci, one can’t help but to be impressed and almost envious of this man’s ability to be so good at just about anything that he put his mind to. Some people remain jealous, others quickly dismiss him as an anomaly, while a few ask themselves what it would take to become half as smart and competent as this man.

Luckily for us, Leonardo da Vinci did a lot of writing. By analyzing his life work, we can get a feel for the type of mentality this man had. By internalizing his paradigms and assimilating his character traits into our own, we can be well on our way to being a worldly man, or perhaps a renaissance man.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

For some reason, people tend to make things very complicated. Moving forward with this concept in mind, we start seeing all the places in our lives and in our thought processes where a straight line can actually be the shortest path between two points.

When we stop taking the roundabout way and focus our curiosity on the fundamentals, we’re able to build a solid foundation of truths that can be applied to any area of our lives. Imagine if you stop accepting nonsense as truth and stop assuming that the conventional wisdom spewed at you by society is true. What you are left with is you and you’ll essentially force yourself to conduct personal research to find out what is really so.

By stacking all incoming facts on top of a foundation of truth, you will be creating an interconnecting web of tangible truths. These are things you can test and prove to be true with certainty. Imagine living a life, where you’ve replaced all doubt with extreme certainty.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

When an extremely knowledgeable man tells you that knowing is not enough, you should probably listen. Forget what you learned from movies such as The Secret that tell you that it’s enough to want and to dream. Take the missing step — take action.

How many times do you see a highly educated person doing really stupid things to their body such as eating themselves into obesity, smoking, or excessively drinking? They know they should stop, but they aren’t doing the action of stopping.

Likewise when that light bulb lights up in your head and you get that brilliant idea, it’s time to make a decision. Will you do nothing about it or will you take action?

“There are three classes of people: those who see, those who see when they are shown, those who do not see.”

A person enters a mental progression from childhood into adulthood. This progression is similar to how a person starts a new field at entry level and progresses to mastery. If you’re going to progress, or not progress, it is largely a personal choice.

When you start learning something, you want to ask “how can I do this?” You’ll eventually find out the answer, but then you progress. Next you throw in your thoughts but seek out validation from an expert and say something along the lines of, “this is how I think it should be done, what do you think about my solution.

These two questions should never really be outgrown. However, you must also learn the art of critical thinking, problem solving, and strategizing, so that one day you can say, “this is in fact how it should be done.If you’re always stuck in “how can I do this?” mode and you’re always being fed the answer, you’re never giving your mind a chance to expand.

“A well-spent day brings happy sleep [and] as a well spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s work ethic was such that his days were spent learning and doing, not idling and procrastinating. It’s fairly simple to do an hour-by-hour or task-by-task analysis of our average day. What might not come as a surprise to you is that many people will be lucky to be unsatisfied with their average day. If they’re unlucky they’ll be disgusted and depressed by their days and the lack of progress they make.

What are we to do if we like the prospect of enjoying great amounts of pleasure each and every day of our lives? One option is to follow the path of our heart and make every action that we take contribute to our life mission and towards accomplishing our dearest goals. The other option is to accept everything the way it is, do nothing to change our current state, and let life happen to us. It’s nothing more than a personal choice of whether you want to make life happen, or if you want life to happen to you.

At the end of the day, and at the end of our life, the responsibility for the way we live sits directly on our shoulders, whether we choose to accept this truth or not. Sometimes you have to accept what happens to you and it’s this choice of accept that allows you to move forward and strive for the greatness that you were meant to achieve.

“You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.”

A person with self-discipline, otherwise known as personal integrity, is one that has a strong relationship with their word. They are able to physically go out and do what they say they will, whether it’s keeping commitments to other people or keeping commitments to themselves.

Self-discipline starts and ends at the mouth. That means that we’re liable for the words that we speak, as well as the food that we put into our mouth. By mastering self-discipline in this way, there is no limit to how powerful and effective we will be in life. Self-discipline is pronounced when we ask ourselves the right life questions and use our curiosity to seek the truth.

Refer back to the greatest feelings of well being that you have experienced. Now do an honest self-assessment of whether these experiences are internal or external. I think you’ll notice that the accomplishments that you are most pleased with are based on an exceedingly large personal display of self-discipline. The events that are the biggest disappointments are most likely due to a lack of self-discipline and integrity on your part. By building on top of this truth, it would make sense for you to do more things that make great results and continue to develop your self-discipline to new levels.

“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation … even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

Metaphorically speaking, men are like sharks. A shark must move forward in order for water to pass through it’s gills so that it obtains oxygen for survival. In fact, a shark is constantly moving forward, even when it is asleep. In the same way, a person must be moving forward in life, toward goals, so that knowledge, just like the shark’s oxygen, passes through us and acts as our life source.

Much like eating, drinking, and breathing, it becomes our personal necessity to keep learning, and increasing our knowledge in all areas of our life. Learning new facts and discovering new truths, sends an exciting zap of energy throughout our minds. Learning can actually be addicting and create a feeling of well-being, unlike inaction, which makes us feel lethargic in mind, body, and spirit.

“The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.”

Leonardo da Vinci long recognizes what we today call ‘getting out of our comfort zones.’ If we maintain a level of intensity in our mental or physical workouts, after we’ve already become accustomed to them; we will never grow to reach the next level.

Image getting down and doing one push up, then repeating this the next day, and the day after that. You’re making zero progress and you’ll never get to the point where you can do one hundred in a row. The same thing goes with simple addition. You can do one plus one, or one plus nine, but if that’s all you’re doing you’ll never understand the equations of quantum physics.

All this means is that you have to feel the pain in order to achieve the gain. This all leads to exultation as you achieve more and more of the goals you’ve set up for yourself.

“The truth of things is the chief nutriment of superior intellects.”

All signs point to the source of Leonardo da Vinci’s genius as being his unquenchable hunger for the truth. From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning to the moment he rested his head on the pillow at night, he sought out the truth in mathematics, engineering, inventing, anatomy, painting, sculpting, architecture, botany, music and writing.

If you observe a child, as he ages from childhood to early adulthood, you may find that the eager curiosity dissipates into quiet surrender, otherwise known as resignation. A person that is resigned and cynical would not bother to question what they did not know, they would merely denounce it and that would mark the end of their intellectual pursuit. By keeping our unwavering curiosity pointed towards the truth, we are able to tap into and unleash our very own genius.

“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”

Some things in our universe are laws; gravity is gravity. On the other hand, we need to be able to correctly interpret a universal law for what it is through testing and measurement so that it isn’t attributed to a false theory.

The sun is powered by the sun God, the rain is due to the rain God, and love is thanks to the God of love. That’s how people used to reason before science. Without a person perceiving something in the right way, Newton might have thought that some invisible man was throwing apples straight down at his head.

This is why it is important for us to test, experiment, and seek out truth. It enables us to attribute what we perceive to already known truths while getting rid of false knowledge. This applies to absolutely anything that you can think of.

How You Can Be a Renaissance Man (or Woman)
Being a true renaissance man means being a person who has impeccable life balance and then takes it a step further by being exceptional in each said area of their life. I’m not talking about good in these areas, I’m talking about being in the 99th percentile in anything you choose to undertake.

It’s like being an octopus and having these obnoxiously long tentacles, made of titanium, that grip and hold onto anything in your path. One might even consider such a person as having Attention Surplus Disorder and laser sharp focus.

The theory behind this is much like Leonardo da Vinci, when you have a balance in all areas of your life, they will exponentially propel your overall growth. Think of it as all the areas of your life working in synergy, and the whole is equal to more then the sum of it’s parts. To be a modern day renaissance man, you must study and perform in the following areas of your life.

    1. Health & Fitness. Study anatomy, biochemistry, and physiology so that you know the exact make up of your body and how you should take care of it. Train with an elite personal trainer, body builder, or fitness model, so you have real life examples of what it takes to eat clean, exercise right, and look and feel great. 
  • Mental Development & Education. Study psychology, science, art, engineering, mathematics, philosophy, architecture, music, and botany. Find other areas of interest that you can study as well. You can get through an entry level text book rather quickly and dive into more advanced fields over time. 
  • Work, Career, & Finances. Start studying finance, economics, and statistics. Know how things in this industry interconnect both locally and globally. This will enable you to tap into ideas that can either help the economy or make you a boat load of money. When you’re working in a company or own a business, know what it takes to work every job from janitor to CEO, as well as what goes on with suppliers, distributors, and customers. 
  • Social life & Relationships. People can either keep us balanced and on point, or give us a helping push towards madness. By being socially adept, you’ll know how to interact and utilize relationships for your benefit. You’ll also know how to benefit mankind. Study some more psychology and get personal experience. 
  • Home & Family. This is your safe zone and should be full of the people you love and trust. These are the relationships that you hold near and dear and they determine how the rest of the relationships in your life will be. The key here is to be a giver instead of a taker. 
  • Character, Integrity, Ethics & Virtues. This category can be improved upon through the studies of philosophy and people that have the character traits that you seek and admire. The number one way to improve here is to set up strict personal rules that will determine your behavior in different situations. 
  • Emotion Control & Development. There are many books on these subjects. You’ll be able to tie in everything from meditation to medical and scientific explanations for why you have certain reactions to specific situations. When your in control of your emotions, you can use them as rocket fuel in accomplishing your predefined life goals. 
  • Daily habits & routines. Study GTD, and experiment with your own productivity systems, so that you can go to sleep happy, knowing that you had a day well spent. Once you start tracking how you spend your time, you’ll see just how much time you’re actually wasting, and be able to turn your productivity and level of fulfillment up a notch. 
  • Life Purpose & Contribution. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how much money you’re going to be buried with. What matters is the positive impact that you’ve left on the world. By being a renaissance man, you’ve gone above and beyond in your personal development. It’s time to give back and contribute. 
  • Spiritual Development. Whether you believe in God or have some other existential ideas about what we’re doing here, it is important to not neglect this area of your life. Meditate, breathe, and relax while you take the time out of the chaos that is your day for introspection.

Go ahead and expand your mind. Don’t be afraid to go to the library and enter a section that you’ve never been in before. Pick up an entry level textbook in the subject of interest, read it, do the exercises in the book, and soon enough you’ll be able to digest advanced scientific journals and do personal experiments about this very same subject.

By having a well rounded education, you’ll be able to tie together things that other people cannot possibly see. You’ll find similarities in sculpting and mathematics, pick up overlaps in engineering and anatomy, have an incredible physique at the same time as you have flourishing relationships — you’ll be a modern day renaissance man (or woman).

Sources: [historical facts, quotes, supplementary Photos by: mandj98, pasotraspaso,treyevan]

Written on 11/07/2008 by Alex Shalman. Alex is an avid reader and is constantly learning how to improve his life. You can catch him at Practical Personal Development or you can check out his FREE ebook, How To Get A Girlfriend. Photo Credit: mamjodh
Alex Shalman

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